Pokemon GO Launches In Rio – Just In Time For The Olympics

With the Rio Olympics kicking off in Brazil, and millions of eyes turned to the stadia, pools and tracks, you would be forgiven for accidentally forgetting the main sporting event of the decade, which is still going on all around us – Pokemon GO.

With the Olympic games about to kick off, Niantic, the studio behind the game, were under immense pressure to roll out to Brazil – but the company had not yet done so due to the crushing demand on their servers placed by each previous rollout. Players in the UK. US and Australia complained about freezing service, crashes from the game servers and inability to log-in or connect to the game, and with another enormous population to contend with, Niantic were not able to launch Pokemon GO in Rio – until now.

Athletes who previously complained about not being able to connect and play the game, along with early-bird fans and media members who wanted to continue their game in the new country, were reunited with their Pokemon and given the chance to play again after the game finally launched, perhaps with deliberate timing, on the same day as the Olympic opening ceremony.

The game’s highly-anticipated arrival in Brazil comes as the latest part of the global rollout – which currently numbers 30 countries, with Niantic’s servers and technical capabilities frantically being upgraded as each stage of the release works them to capacity. The rest of the world’s nations will be included in staggered releases for the next few months, and each region will have unique Pokemon that can’t be caught elsewhere.

As for Brazil, many athletes and their retinues are just happy to be back playing. With their next several weeks to be spent in Brazil, lack of access to the game would have meant losing weeks of progress and returning home far behind the curve – which, for Olympians, is a prospect they will likely be unfamiliar with and unwilling to entertain. On top of missing out on training, levelling up, networkign with other players and gaining experience, they would also have missed out on whatever the Pokemon species are that are most common in Brazil – with a country with such dazzling natural diversity and wildlife, it’s easy to imagine that the region-exclusive pokemon there would be something to watch out for, and a real shame to miss out on.

However, people who downloaded the game in a country where it is available would still be able to play – which is how one Japanese Olympic gymnast managed to rack up a fee of $5000 in roaming charges playing the game through the streets of Rio. It would also be possible to download the game by tricking your smartphone and app store into thinking that you’re in a country where the game has been released, leading to a large number of Pokemon GO players establishing themselves in Brazil well in advance of the official release.

This is the same pattern seen in the UK before the official release of the game, which came out two weeks prior in America. Gamers across the UK and Europe spoofed their locations to locations in the US, tricking the software into allowing them to download the games, which, for the time before the official release, were plagued with system errors and server crashes. Considering the players were circumventing the steps taken to prevent such crashes, that seems fairly reasonable.

One set of Olympians will certainly be relieved that Pokemon GO is available in Brazil are the Iranian team… As Iran has just become the first country in the world to ban the game, citing “security reasons”.

In a more detailed release, Abolhasan Firouzabadi, the head of Iran’s supreme council of virtual space, told the world that “any application using location services or augmented reality software needs to request permission to operate in Iran from the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance”. The nation is currently in the midst of a cyber-war with its own populace, with millions of Iranians on Facebook and Twitter despite both being officially banned by the country. Workarounds exist, although the blocks are becoming more effective, and it isn’t clear whether it will be feasible to play Pokemon GO with them in place, as many of the workarounds cost connection speeds dearly.

As of this week, however, the Iranian athletes and fans will be able to enjoy hunting Pokemon on the streets of Brazil, along with the millions of residents of Rio, the Olympians, fans, retinues, coaches, medics and staff from all over the world, who all want to be the very best, like no-one ever was.